A few weeks ago, I led a twitter chat on creating diverse career paths and honoring that everyone’s road to post-high school education looks different. We highlighted that the language needs to shift from a one-size-fits all model. This is true in other areas as well and one area that I feel needs more acknowledgement, is families. Keep reading to see how I honor this diversity in my classroom!
I grew up with a somewhat untraditional model of a family. My mom was a single mom and we spent my first five years being supported by our village: our group of family and close friends that helped out when needed. Then she met my dad. You might pick up on the fact that while he’s “my stepdad,” I call him my dad. More on that in a bit... Years passed, along came more siblings and our life shifted into what many would consider a more traditional two parent family. While this was the case, those first years had also created strong bonds with my grandparents and they often stepped in to support both me and my mom when other commitments came up that she couldn’t make it to.
Over the years, it hasn’t been easy to talk about family. People would constantly correct me when I mentioned my Dad. “Oh you mean your stepdad, right?” Why did that matter? Why did that small little addition have to be clarified? Family is family. However, those small comments became engrained in me. I felt shame over having to clarify, “my stepdad technically but I call him my dad.” I remember the feelings of embarrassment when I had to tell people that my parents weren’t there, but I brought Papa or Grandmama instead. They didn’t understand why I would be just as excited to have them there, because our family dynamic had always included them. Having to explain at all why my support system didn’t fit the traditional model, was hard and emotional.
As an educator, my own experiences shape the ways that I interact with students and families in my classroom. Interestingly enough, my feelings of shame and anxiety come out whenever I hear family events advertised as “Muffins with Mom” and “Donuts with Dad” because I know they bring up emotions for students that don’t have a traditional mom or dad, and quite honestly it's feel as though it brings a huge microscope out. This day in our school, often brings tears and escalated behaviors. Students are feeling disappointed they don’t have anyone there to participate with them, their feeling examined and haven’t quite figured out how to self-regulate their emotions and trauma from their family situation. For some, it’s just an easy morning with a treat before school -- for others, a glaring reminder of what they don’t have. Families are diverse, and fluid. There are co-parents, step parents, same sex parents, grandparents stepping in or even just families that share the load together. Sometime’s active parents are absent at this time in their child’s life for a multitude of reasons. It’s time we stop looking at just a wonder bread version of mom and dad, and instead, value all the roles that can support us.
In my classroom, we’ve ditched “Mother’s Day Tea” and swapped it for Superwomen’s Day. Students invite any important woman from their life (sometimes it’s more than one!) and they come in to spend quality time with their student. Is it really much different? No…but does it make much of a difference? I like to think it does. This unique opportunity allows any woman in this person’s life to join us. It inherently shifts the focus from moms only, to the unique role models that can be present. When women are unable to make it in, it’s an opportunity for me to ask adults from the school to step in and support the child.
Through this event, I get an opportunity to infuse some writing into our preparation by asking students to write about why their superwoman or women are super. Their honest reflection always makes these pieces a meaningful gift for their “village”. I guide students to focus on the great qualities of their role models and reflect on how they support and love the student. Students also add to this piece by creating drawings of their women in superhero masks.
This event also allows for some infusion of social and emotional content. We are able to practice social engagement and constructive relationship building. We show the ability to work with others, while we prepare for our Superwomen to join us in the classroom, and get our room clean and ready to welcome them. The students build on their community with each other as they help me clean tables, organize materials and get our classroom hosting ready. I always feel as though this event is a culmination of our time together, watching them work like well oiled pieces that have learned to work together. Students take questions (created by me) and practice asking each other and sharing their ideas on how to create conversations with their families. When superwomen come in, the students share these questions with them and guide some quality conversation. It’s amazing to watch them guide the conversation with people they feel most comfortable around. They also serve their women drinks and treats, pulling out their chair and giving them some quality attention.
This is an event in our classroom that allows just the child and the adult time together, individually, to celebrate their relationship. Isn't this what Mother's Day aims to be about? I've had many superwomen in my life; each of them uniquely supporting me through trials and triumphs.
I want all of my student’s differences to feel like strengths and not a reason to feel like they don’t belong or can’t participate. This event has eliminated the early morning tears from my students turned away because they don’t have a traditional “mom.”. It keeps the breakdowns in behaviors from showing up, because they are all getting an opportunity to celebrate too. We highlight the “dudes” in our life at the end of the year as well. The first step in valuing diversity is recognizing that diversity doesn’t always look the same. Changing our language provides a stronger experience for everyone.
Have you ever felt impacted by this kind of diversity? How do you include community supports in your classroom? As someone who is always growing, I wonder, how can I continue to make this event even more inclusive?
- alternative holiday celebrations
- classroom community
- classroom events
- Family Engagement
- mothers day
- Social and Emotional Learning